February 2016 | Rebecca Rego Barry

Harper Lee, 1926-2016

Mockingbird.jpgAs book lovers, we were saddened to learn that Harper Lee died last week at the age of 89.

It is a regrettable truth of book collecting: an author's death will likely increase the value of her work, for the obvious reasons that she is neither around to sign books nor to produce them, thus cutting off all supply. (And, as New York City book dealer James S. Jaffe confirmed last year, there is nothing left in Lee's vault.) It may be crass to consider, but death affects collectability, something we noted after Maurice Sendak passed in 2012. The thing about Lee, of course, is that her entire corpus consisted, until very recently, of one major publication: To Kill a Mockingbird, published in an edition of five thousand in 1960. First editions appear at auction a couple of times a year, and several booksellers also have firsts on hand. (One even turned up at a Philadelphia flea market in 2014 where a savvy dealer picked it up for $3.33, a story I profile in Rare Books Uncovered.) Prices for fine, unsigned first editions run upwards of $15,000. Allen & Pat Ahearn's book collectors' bible, Collected Books (2011), sets the book's market value at $25,000. Signed or inscribed editions currently offered online range from $20,000 to $38,500. The one pictured here--VG with some condition issues--sold for $8,750 at Heritage Auctions in New York last April.  


Will those numbers creep up now that Lee has left us? And what about her second novel, Go Set a Watchman, published a mere seven months ago, fifty-five years after her Pulitzer Prize-winning debut--will it be collectable? With a first printing of two million copies, it's not likely ever to be rare, although some misprinted UK editions did pique the interest of collectors, and signed limited editions published by Random House can be had for about $4,000-6,000. 


Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions.